2014 Mazda3 Sport GS vs 2014 Mini Cooper. Click image to enlarge
Review by Steven Bochenek, photos by Steven Bochenek and Jonathan Yarkony
City dwellers are unique. They’re on a space budget for parking and maneuverability. Unless they want to sit and stew, they need a peppy capsule to almost instantly transport them around constant and sudden traffic obstacles. Urbanites also want something that’s attractive, given all the eyes they pass daily.
And given the price of life in Canada’s biggest cities these days, they want something affordable that also doesn’t spank them at the gas pump.
Step forward, 2014 Mazda3, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Car of the Year in two categories, and the logical choice made by this city dweller’s head. Actually, it’s won over 130 awards internationally, my favourite being Road & Track’s ‘Best of Everything’ which is about as thorough as any reader could hope for. Our trim here is the Sport GS, a sleek hatchback with a low centre of gravity that loves the road. With all these accolades and a decent price, it was set to steal the heart as well.
But there’s a cool new kid in town: the 2014 Mini Cooper arrived at the 2014 party fashionably late. It was the choice of this urbanite’s heart. Indeed, my head predicts it’ll steal many hearts this year. Minis have always hugged the road as much as you want to hug them but this year they’ve elevated the Cooper’s quality – not that it was ever anything but premium. Yet they’ve lowered the price. Significantly.
So, in this case, much as we all love some head, the heart trumped it.
Power and agility to sprint through and slip between construction cones – close but point goes to Mini.
The Head: On paper the Mazda3 should win the engine battle. The 2014 was rethought and redesigned for maximum efficiency. Its 2.0L 4-cylinder engine puts out 155 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque. The manufacturers managed to subtract 27 kilos from the construction. You get thrilling liftoff.
The tester had an automatic transmission, the logical choice of a decent head. (More opportunity for resale and other family members can operate it.) There’s a sport mode for manual shifting but no paddles, just the knob shifter. The difference in the feel of the ride is noticeably more enjoyable, but compared with true shifting it’s academic.
It drives remarkably well. The redesigned 2014’s wheelbase is a bit longer, though the overall length is slightly truncated. The result is even better grip in turns. Low slung, it’s nimble as a panther: a real treat for drivers. The steering is comfortable and sporty but feels slightly artificially electronic.
And then there’s the Mini.
2014 Mazda3 Sport GS & 2014 Mini Cooper dashboards. Click image to enlarge
The Heart: Mazda isn’t the only company who redesigned things from bottom up for 2014. The new Mini engine punches well above its class. It’s a 1.5L three-cylinder twinpower turbo that unleashes 134 ponies. That is, it’s just one turbo with twin scrolling, so it’s lighter and more efficient than a true twin-turbo system. It doesn’t sound powerful – and if it were huge, it wouldn’t be. Despite increase in size, they’ve also manufactured a lighter car.
The new MINI Cooper has a sport, mid and green mode for driving. Sport makes you leap, taking your breath with it! This tester had a manual gearshift, which only upped the fun factor. Shift Point Display is Mini’s name for those My First Standard™ guides. It tells you when to shift up and down, keeping you in the optimal revving range. It’s useful enough but some traditionalists may eschew its suggestions occasionally, especially driving in sport mode.
Despite the Mazda3’s low centre of gravity, nothing performs like the Mini’s vacuuming in the corners. The steering wheel feels so good and well-proportioned you’d need to spend another $40k to beat it. There is one issue that’ll require adjusting your driving style: the new positioning of the cruise control by the left thumb. When you make a hard right– and you will be tempted to do that at every right turn – you may inadvertently throw it into cruise mode. Your foot on the accelerator remains in command, so it’s not at all unsafe, just inefficient until you adjust.
2014 Mini Cooper & 2014 Mazda3 Sport GS cargo areas. Click image to enlarge
An urban ride needs to be small but there needs to be space – point to Mazda.
The Head: While Mazda shortened the 2014’s length slightly to 4,460 mm they extended the width, mirror to mirror, to 2,053 mm. Which helped with the feel of the drive but also made far more space inside than the MINI – either with rear seats folded or up. It also seats five grownups, another important consideration for resale value.
The Heart: Without venturing into grotesque territory of the Countryman, the new Mini Cooper is 114 mm longer and 7 wider than the 2013. (Proportionally, it’s still adorable and now drives more like a Mini than ever.) However, as always, it’s tight in the back and seats only four. It offers well under half the volume of the Mazda3 Sport with the rear seats up and about 30 percent less with them folded.
However, the new Mini has upped its game with the ergonomic allocation of space. A second cached glove compartment means more safety storage. And unlike my silly 2010 Mini Clubman, the window controls are on the doors where any rider would expect them.